August 29, 2008


Look but don't eat or you may not make it home. Some people think the lotus referred to in the Odyssey was the blue water-lily of the Nile. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

The Goat Rope Odyssey odyssey continues, along with links and comments about current events. If you like Greek mythology and the classics, please click on earlier posts.

While the story has delighted listeners and readers for ages, it also deals with a current issue: the difficulties returning combat veterans face in trying to make the transition from war to civilian life. Lots of things have changed since then, but lots of things haven't.

At this point in the story, Odysseus in narrating his version of his journeys after the Trojan War to an audience of the peace loving Phaeacians, who will help him on his way home. Note: since Odysseus lies just about every time he speaks in this epic, he should be considered a very unreliable narrator.

As yesterday's post related, his first stop on the way home was a gratuitous raid on the Circones that ended badly and indicated that he is still in combat mode and not quite ready for peacetime life.

But that's not the only way to lose one's homecoming. After ten days in the stormy sea, Odysseus and his men arrive at the land of the Lotus Eaters. He sends out a party to scout among the natives, who represented a different kind of threat. The natives

had no notion of killing my companions, not at all,
they simply gave them the lotus to taste instead...
Any crewmen who ate the lotus, the honey-sweet fruit,
lost all desire to send a message back, much less return,
their only wish to linger there with the Lotus-eaters,
grazing on lotus, all memory of the journey home
dissolved forever.

In one of the rare moments in the Odyssey where its hero acts like a good leader, Odysseus forces his men back to the ship:

...I brought them back, back
to the hollow ships, and streaming tears--I forced them,
hauled them under the rowing benches, lashed them fast
and shouted out commands to my other, steady comrades:
'Quick, no time to lose, embark in the racing ships!'--
so none could eat the lotus, forget the voyage home.

It's not clear what kind of drug Homer had in mind here, but metaphorical lotus eating is a live and well today. Many people who have been through stressful and traumatic events--not just combat soldiers--find some equivalent of lotus to eat, smoke or drink.

The problem with lotus eating is that it's so addictive, you don't even have to have gone through an trauma to get hooked. We've got lots of different kinds of lotuses in our society. In fact, lotus eating of the modern pharmaceutical variety is a major cause of death in my state of West Virginia.

Looking back, I'm amazed at how many people I know or grew up fell under the influence, literally. It can cause you to lose you homecoming even if you never went away.

THROUGH THE ROOF. Here's another item on CEO pay.

SIFTING THROUGH THE RUBBLE of Census data, here's a snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute about how working families have lost ground since the 1990s.

ON CREDIT. Consumer outrage about abuses by credit card companies has led to proposals for new regulations.

FROM THE RIDICULOUS TO THE SUBLIME. There is new evidence in support of subliminal learning.


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